Friday, February 7, 2014

Lessons from the Bike: The Tough Guy Crashes

Any of my friends will tell you - I love to bike. I have a Carpe named Balrog Trouble Cornwheel - or Trouble, for short - so named because he's menacing like the evil Fire-Demon of Moria, he's constantly getting me into some kind of mess, and, well, Cornwheel just sounds like the bicycle version of my last name.

Even at rest, he looks mean
Trouble and I go for some decently long rides. It's not unusual for me to take him on a 20, 30 mile ride on a nice day. During the summer months, we'll average about 80-100 miles a week. We commute. We exercise. We flip off drivers who cut us off. We're made for each other...even when Trouble is getting me into trouble.

Like last Friday, when Trouble and I got into a nasty accident on a major Memphis road.

Madison Avenue is a road that runs from Midtown Memphis all the way to the University of Memphis Law School's downtown campus. I love biking on Madison because not many motorists use the road, and it also offers bike lanes, which gives me a decent sense of security.

But Madison Avenue has a nasty little trick. It has trolley tracks built into the road, and if you're not careful, those tracks will take you down.  As my good friend Clark, owner of Victory Bike Studios, will tell you, "I always tout that the trolley tracks are what keep orthopedic surgeons in business. You can't ride parallel to them, or you are gambling."

There's a point on Madison where the trolley tracks cross from the middle of the road to the sidewalk; for a cyclist, this crossing is the most dangerous part of the journey to downtown Memphis. If you hit the crossing at any angle other than 90 degrees to the tracks, you will crash.

And for a dozen trips down Madison, I have won Clark's gamble, safely coasting over those metal devils.

But last Friday brought the unlucky craps shot. I came in at the wrong angle, and my tires got lodged into the grooves of the tracks, and I spilled face first onto the pavement.

And I immediately got back on my feet.

I immediately put the chain back on the gear.

I immediately got back on the road.

I immediately biked to my intended destination.

And I didn't bother to see the damage until I got to my intended destination.

Not damage to Trouble, mind you; the bike got away without a scratch. (Like I said: Trouble).

Rather, the damage to my body - to my left knee. My jeans were ripped and covered in a small amount of blood. My knee was scraped bad - not bad enough to need stitches, but it hurt. And my knee was dirty, covered in soot and gravel from my spill on Madison.

My riding gloves - it was cold - were also ripped. That could've been the flesh of my palms.

But you know what? I'm a Tough Guy. I don't have time to mope, and I'm not about to call a friend for a ride home. So I chain my bike up outside the coffee shop I intended to visit to meet with my intended friend for my intended cup of coffee, and over said cups of coffee we casually joked about my fall, my ripped up jeans, my bloodied knee.

Well, I joked. My friend Tyler laughed only because I laughed - in reality, Tyler wanted to give Trouble and me a ride home in his truck.

But no. I'm a Tough Guy who is going to spend all day on his bike, scraped up body be damned. So Tyler and I finish coffee, and we hug goodbye, and I mount my bike ("Dang, my knee hurts"), and I head east on Madison to meet another friend for lunch, and I go over the same trolley tracks, and I spill again. Not as hard as the first fall, but even then, it was like adding salt to an fresh and biting wound.

(Yes, Reader, I was wearing a helmet).

And I immediately get on my feet, and I immediately fix the chain, and I immediately hit the road to have my lunch with my friend Andy, because Tough Guys bike to lunch with a banged up body.

When I meet up with Andy, he's looking at my ripped up jeans, my bloodied knee, my scraped gloves with that look - you know, the one that says, "Jimmy, you're an idiot. You know that, right?" Andy offers Trouble and me a ride home in his truck, but I politely decline. I'm a Tough Guy; I'll take care of myself.

I bike to Rhodes to do some work ("Dang, my knee really hurts"), and I have to tell my colleagues what happened to my bloodied knee and ripped up jeans. Eh, let's be honest, I'm smirking with every detail I tell them, because pain is cool, and I'm a Tough Guy.

By now, all my adrenaline has worn off, so I am exhausted. I bike my sorry self home ("[Expletive], this frackin knee really hurts") and I pass out as soon as I walk into my bedroom.

When I wake up about an hour or so later, I start thinking:

Why didn't I stop?
Why wouldn't I accept anybody's help?
What joy do I have in telling people I crashed on Madison?

I could have been seriously hurt.
I could have broken my wrists.
I could have been hit by a car while I was down on the ground.
I could have gotten killed.

I suffer from Tough Guy Syndrome - a sequence of lies and half-truths about masculinity. I believe this lie that says pain for the sake of pain is noble and good. I believe this lie that says only weak people accept help from friends. I believe this lie that says you must always be the noble hero at every moment; you must always push every envelope.

I'm a Tough Guy on my bike. Where else am I a Tough Guy?

I'm a Tough Guy in my friendships. I don't like to ask for help, nor do I like to receive help. My roommates are always asking if they can help me make dinner, but I always shut them down. "Nah, I got it."

I'm a Tough Guy in my work. It's midnight as I write. I've put together lectures, class plans, and e-mails at an even later hour. Why? Because I must push through the fatigue; only the weak need rest.

I'm a Tough Guy in my faith. Anyone who knows my story - which is many of you - knows that I have endured some horrifically rough episodes, most notably during my time in North Carolina. I've never really allowed anybody to help me carry those burdens. Sure, I've shared my story many times, but I don't know if I have ever allowed many people to help me confront the pains, fears, and anxieties I carry in my heart.

Because I'm a Tough Guy. There's no time to stay on the ground. I gotta get back on the bike and get moving to my next destination - and I'll gladly wear my bloodied wounds openly on my heart and body.

But it takes a humble man, a strong man, a healthy man to say,
I need to stop and rest.
I need to heal these wounds.
I need someone else to carry me right now.
Or I'm going to hurt myself - and others - more deeply than I am already hurt.

There are more than a few guys in my life who are willing to carry me home. A Tough Guy will always decline, but a strong man will humble himself enough to gratefully accept the help.

"Bear one another's burdens," writes the Apostle Paul, "and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)

Trouble may not be able to teach me how to accept help, but he has revealed a wound that cuts deeper than a scraped knee. Self-awareness is the first step towards wholeness and restoration.

A few good friends and a gracious Father in Heaven is teaching me now how to ask for and receive help. That's a hard lesson to learn, but even in the last few weeks, I have benefitted greatly from it. But that's a lesson to share for another day.

Until next time,

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